Y’all might wonder why I am the way I am. I swear, there is a reason.
It’s my dad’s fault.
Now, when I was a kid, my dad was almost never around. And I mean it, almost never. When he moved from Alabama out west, six months before we did, it took me about a week and a half to be unable to recall what he looked like. Later, in high school, I came downstairs without my contacts on and didn’t recognize him. Dad was always at work or hunting. Occasionally, taking my brother someplace. I was the token girl and not the scion. That’s not to say my brother got a lot of attention: he didn’t. Neither of us did. But he took Baby Brother fishing and did stuff like that, and when he did, I got left at home.
Interesting, but I love to fish. So dads, take your girls out too. Seriously, I should be a stripper. If I hadn’t had a very rigid set of moral standards, if I hadn’t been painfully shy, if I had been more of an exhibitionist or rebellious, I would be working a pole right now.
Granted, no one wants to see that.
Ironically, though, my sense of humor comes from him. The bawdy sense of humor that knows few boundaries is all him, baby. Though I think I have some sense in regard to boundaries that my father lacks. After all, I have boundaries, I just elect not to use them very often. My dad, on the other hand, doesn’t.
This brings to mind the day I stopped talking in class. I was in kindergarten.
Mind you, it was a Southern Baptist preschool/Kindergarten in the deep south, back in the late seventies, early eighties, back in those days when the switch was still used. Fricking thing hurt, incidentally.
Bear in mind, I was already painfully shy, a fact my mother was aware of, but who knows if my dad knew. In any case, I’d been sick for a few days. And my very pretty, very sweet, very devout kindergarten teacher innocently asks, “Oh, Meg, what did you have?”
In all honesty, I had a cold or something equally minor. My father being a physician, I figured he must know a thing or two about medicine. So, I responded with all the confidence in my five-year-old body,
“I have the syph!”
I watched a number of emotions play across her face, and I knew I’d done something wrong. Something terribly, terribly wrong, and I recall shrinking in my seat. Her voice was very quiet as she asked,
“What did you just say to me, Miss Connors?”
By this point, I’m sure I was blushing like crazy. I was in huge trouble, but I had no idea why. Less certain, I said, “I have the syph?”
I promptly got sent to the principal’s office. Where I repeated exactly what I’d said to my teacher to the principal.
By this time, I knew that whatever I’d said was terrible. Was wrong. I had no idea what was wrong with it; after all, I was just repeating what my dad had told me. It’s what he always told me when he’d look in my throat or at the splinter in my finger or whatever. After all, one had to be sick or wounded to get my father’s attention.
“Baby Megs, you have the syph.” Sometimes, he’d even says, “Baby Megs, you have syphillis.”
I was five. I had no idea what syphilis was, or how one… procured… such an illness.
Anyway, the principal broke out the ruler, had me lay my palms flat. And he hit me with that ruler. Twice.
By this time, I was sobbing. I had no idea what I’d done wrong. I was painfully shy, quiet, and I wanted everyone to like me (yes, all of these things have changed. I’d like it if people liked me, but really, if you don’t, there’s not much I’m willing to do about it). I just wanted to do what everyone wanted. I was asked a question, I answered it, and I was punished for it.
“I have the syph!”
It’s funny now, like everything else… At the time, I was mortified. I’d be mortified again in seventh grade, while I had to lie to the school nurse and tell her that she was misreading the word “syphilis.” I most certainly did not have syphilis. I don’t know what I had, but I told her it was “strep.” Thankfully, my father’s handwriting is so bad that she at least pretended to buy it. By then, corporal punishment in school was illegal, so I dodged a bullet there.
But I digress. In any case, I can trace most of my reluctance to speak in class to that very moment. For years, I never volunteered information. Hell, I don’t think I began talking in class in earnest until college.
All because of syphilis.